3

January

Green Bay Packers Playoff Picture: Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The Falcons are just one of four NFC playoff teams to have lost to the Packers in 2011 and would surely love one more crack at them.

On Sunday night, the seeding for the NFL playoff games was set in stone when the New York Giants soundly beat the Dallas Cowboys in a game that decided the NFC East division champions. Earlier that day, the San Francisco 49ers eked by the St. Louis Rams to maintain their second seed and first-round bye, while the Atlanta Falcons secured the fifth seed after their big win over Tampa Bay and the Detroit Lions’ loss to the Green Bay Packers.

With the regular season complete, we finally have a clear picture of how the playoffs could progress. Before continuing, though, here is a quick list of the final seeding for the NFC:

  1. Green Bay Packers (15-1)
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)
  3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)
  4. New York Giants (9-7)
  5. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
  6. Detroit Lions (10-6)

The rules dictate that, in each round of the playoffs, the lowest seeded team will travel to face the highest seed, while the second lowest seed will face the second highest. The lone exception is the first round, where the two highest seeds (the Packers and 49ers this year) get a bye for that week.

So in the Wildcard Round, the Lions will square off with the Saints in the Superdome, and the Falcons will travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants. Green Bay and San Francisco will both have the weekend off.

Depending on the outcome of those games, the Packers will host the Giants, Falcons, or Lions at Green Bay’s very own Lambeau Field in the Divisional Round.

But have you noticed something yet? With the exception of the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers faced (and beat) every other playoff team at some point during the regular season. Through those five games, having faced the Lions twice, the Packers won by a combined score of 177-139.

That leaves a total margin of victory of 38 points, or 7.6 points per game. Just over a touchdown.

Interestingly enough, last year’s Green Bay team also faced three familiar teams on their path to the Super Bowl. They played the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1 and in the Wildcard Round, the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12 and the Divisional Round, and capped off their run in the NFC Championship Game against the Chicago Bears, who they of course faced twice during the season as a division opponent.

21

February

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Defense – Tramon Williams

1) Introduction: Tramon Williams is a very different player in 2010 than he was in 2009. Williams was the second most penalized defensive back in the NFL in 2009, when he stepped into a starting role after Al Harris was lost for the season. He showed some signs of brilliance, but a lack of discipline in his technique, earning him the nickname “Admiral Armbar” from Football Outsiders. Well, he and assistant coach Joe Whitt addressed the technique issues in training camp, and “Admiral Armbar” has not been seen since.

2) Profile:

Tramon Vernell Williams

Position: DB
Height: 5-11    Weight: 191 lbs.

Born: March 16, 1983 in Houma, LA
College: Louisiana Tech (school history)    (Williams college stats)

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 19 (4692nd overall since 1950)
1-time Pro Bowler (fine print)

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Solid starter. One way or another, Tramon Williams was going to be counted on to be a starter. Even if Al Harris was able to return to action this season, the odds of him stepping in right away were slim. Tramon Williams was going to be the Packers’ starting right cornerback in 2010 – sink or swim. Besides changing his coverage techniques, Williams was also going to be expected to improve his tackling, which the Packers’ coaches were not satisfied with in 2009.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: The highlights are easy. Finding  low-lights was rather difficult, especially with his play at cornerback. Perhaps his muffed punt in the Super Bowl would qualify as a low-light. He was very lucky there the Packers stole the ball back. As for his least productive game stat-wise, it would be the New England game. 1 solo tackle, no passes defended and he was pancaked on the BenJarvis Green TD run in the 1st quarter. Highlight for the year would have to be the Atlanta game. An INT in the end zone and a pick-six just before the half that changed the whole complexion of the game. The game-ending INT against the Eagles in the playoffs would be a close second.

21

February

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Defense – Charles Woodson

1) Introduction: As a free agent in 2006, cornerback Charles Woodson was not wanted by 31 of the 32 NFL teams. They thought he was a player in decline and that thanks to those supposedly diminishing skills, it wasn’t worth putting up with his antics. Well, the one team that wanted him got him, and needless to say the Green Bay Packers are pretty happy with what Woodson has become. Despite getting his relationship with then-rookie head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, Woodson has evolved into one of the best corners in the game and the veteran leader of the Packers locker room. The whole world got to see his leadership in the aftermath of this year’s NFC Championship as well as the reports from the locker room during Super Bowl XLV. In 2009, Woodson was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year but fell short of his ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. While his statistics may not have been as gaudy in 2010, Woodson finally had his dream fulfilled and won a ring.

Charles Woodson

Position: DB
Height: 6-1    Weight: 200 lbs.

Born: October 7, 1976 in Fremont, OH
College: Michigan (school history)
Drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the 1st round (4th overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft.

Weighted Career AV (100-95-…): 95 (192nd overall since 1950)
7-time Pro Bowler & 2-time First-Team All-Pro

3) Expectations coming into the season: Considering the numbers he piled up in 2009, the sky was the limit for Woodson entering 2010. With 9 interceptions and 3 touchdowns last season, it would be difficult for Woodson to duplicate those statistics this season. Still it was expected that Woodson would continue to be a ball hawk and the biggest weapon on defense for the Packers. With Al Harris on the PUP list to start the season, Woodson was expected to once again be the man in the Packers secondary as young corner Tramon Williams learned the ropes .

4) Highlights/Lowlights: An obvious highlight for Woodson would have to be his interception returned for touchdown at home against the Detroit Lions in Week 4 that helped seal the win in a tight game for the Packers. It was Woodson’s lone pick six for the season. A lowlight for No. 21 would have to be the Miami Dolphins game where Chad Henne seemingly could pick apart the Packers secondary and Woodson made his share of mistakes. Even though he shared coverage duties of Brandon Marshall with Williams, the Dolphins wide receiver still got over 100 yards receiving was a key player in the Dolphins’ overtime win.

17

February

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Defense – Howard Green

1) Introduction: Howard Green can thank for the Jenkins family for the 2010 season; while he started on the Redskins (only to be cut in the offseason), he was scooped by the Jets after starting nose tackle Kris Jenkins went on IR due to a ACL injury. But his time there was short lived as he was cut after the Jets bye week for purportedly coming back at 375 pounds. He chose to drive home in his pickup truck to New Orleans but when he hit the Louisiana border his agent called him to tell him to get his butt to Green Bay since the Packers had just claimed him up off waivers. More driving and a long flight back up north had Green back in Green, only this time to relieve some of the strain on Kris Jenkins’ injured little brother Cullen. Oh yah, and his first game was against the Jets too.

2) Profile:

Howard Green Jr.

Position: DT
Height: 6-2    Weight: 320 lbs.

Born: January 12, 1979 in Donaldsonville, LA
College: LSU (school history)
Drafted by the Houston Texans in the 6th round (190th overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Not on the team. If anything the Packers only knew of Howard Green on game tape, but on the other side since the Packers saw the Redskins in week 5 and the Jets in week 8. However after he was cut by the Jets, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who had initially drafted him in 2002, picked him back up and inserted him as the backup DE behind Cullen Jenkins who was nursing a broken hand and to shore up a decimated defensive line, who had lost Johnny Jolly to suspension, Mike Neal to IR and had Jenkins and Ryan Pickett both playing hurt.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Howard Green started the landslide for the Packers in first half the Super Bowl by man handling Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu, bull rushing him right into quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Green managed to get a hand on Roethlisberger’s hand and the pass fluttered right into the waiting arms of free safety Nick Collins, who weaved the ball back to the end zone for a pick 6.

15

February

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Defense – Sam Shields

 

1) Introduction: Remember back in August when Mike McCarthy and Packers management kept preaching about “improving from within?” As usual, the Packers were not buyers in the free agent market, and most of us wondered how the team’s horrendous pass defense could possibly improve after a rough end to the 2009 season. We were even more skeptical once it became apparent that Sam Shields — an undrafted rookie who played cornerback for only one season in college — was going to be Green Bay’s nickel back. However, once the 2010 season concluded and the Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, everyone that originally questioned why Shields was given such a key role was pointing to the rookie as a major reason why the Packers were world champs.

2) Profile:

Sam Shields

Position: DB
Height: 5-11    Weight: 184 lbs.

Born: December 8, 1987 in Sarasota, FL
College: Miami (FL)

3) Expectations coming into the season: Not screw up too badly. While people questioned Shields’ skills as a DB, nobody questioned his raw ability. It became apparent early in practice that Shields could run with any WR in the NFL and hold his own when it came to quickness. Consistency was the major question mark. Could Shields avoid major mistakes that would cancel out any positive plays he makes?

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Highlights included a two interception, one sack performance in the NFC Championship, a sprawling one-handed interception on a pass from Jon Kitna early in the Cowboys game, and picking off Eli Manning early in the fourth quarter of the Giants game. Lowlights included getting burned by Mike Wallace for a touchdown in the Super Bowl and struggling to help out with perimeter run defense throughout the season.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Major. Shields’ consistency was his biggest contribution. Yes, he made the occasional (undrafted) rookie blunder, but not nearly as many as we thought he would. Shields’ consistency allowed Dom Capers to experiment with his defense and help cover up for a lack of manpower at LB. Because Capers did not have to devise schemes to help a struggling Shields, the Packers defense was able to get creative and take a major leap forward.

6) Player’s contributions during the 6-win end-of-season run: Several shining moments. Nothing can top Shields performance in the NFC Championship game. He helped knock out Jay Cutler with a sack, thrwarted a major momentum shift with his interception before halftime, and sealed a trip to the Super Bowl with his pick on the Bears’ final drive.

15

February

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations – Defense – AJ Hawk

1) Introduction: AJ Hawk came in as a highly touted 5th overall selection in the 2006 NFL draft. Since then, his career can be described as “steady”; drafted as the most “NFL ready” player in his draft he has been just that, he usually is assignment sure and consistent in tackling and in coverage, but many people have called him out for not being the “impact player” warranting a top 5 pick. It will be interesting to see what the Packers do with perhaps their deepest position. All 4 inside linebackers have sizable contracts (with cover specialist Brandon Chillar receiving one last year and Desmond Bishop receiving one this year). Hawk’s contract included at $10 million base salary in the final year in order to stimulate an extension; he’s definitely not worth that much and it basically comes down to him or Nick Barnett (who has two years left on his contract).

2) Profile:

Aaron James Hawk

Position: LB
Height: 6-1    Weight: 245 lbs.

Born: January 6, 1984 in Centerville, OH
College: Ohio State (school history)    (Hawk college stats)
Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1st round (5th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Significant role player – Hawk was a starter in the base 3-4 defense, but much was made by the fact that Dom Capers didn’t play any base 3-4 in the season opener and thus Hawk was on the bench the entire game. With the rise of Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, Capers took advantage of having Charles Woodson in the slot and the nickel defense became more “base” than the base 3-4.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: As stated earlier, Hawk’s steady game play rarely makes for highlights or lowlights. Hawk had a career 3 interceptions but none were of much note; his interception against the Lions was more because of Jahvid Best falling down on the play and his pick against Brett Farve was also a lucky interception as outside linebacker Brad Jones knocked Farve down while he was throwing. But perhaps most damning is the fact that Hawk had an interception against the Giants but the play failed to make it onto the highlights reel on NFL network. On the flip side, there aren’t many plays that show Hawk being straight off beaten due to back technique or mental errors. Overall, Hawks season is basically devoid of highlights but also lowlights.